Childhood Gender Nonconformity: A Risk Indicator for Childhood Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress in Youth

Published in: Pediatrics.  2012.  Authors: Andrea L. Roberts, PhD,Margaret Rosario, PhD,Heather L. Corliss, PhD,Karestan C. Koenen, PhD, and S. Bryn Austin, ScD

A study discussing the associations between gender nonconformity and negative outcomes… making clear that lack of acceptance is a significant cause of poorer physical and mental health, poorer school performance, unemployment, substance abuse, and suicide.

“…childhood gender nonconformity has also been associated with a lower sense of well-being in adolescence and mental health problems in adulthood, including depression and anxiety symptoms, distress, body dissatisfaction, attachment anxiety, and suicidality. Thus, gender nonconformity in childhood may be an important health risk indicator.”

 “…Thus, if gender nonconforming children are at higher risk of abuse, they may also be at greater risk for developing PTSD compared with gender-conforming children. PTSD has severe sequelae with particular relevance to youth, including substance abuse, school dropout, teen pregnancy, suicide, mood disorders, relationship instability, and unemployment.”

 “…We identify gender nonconformity as an important indicator of children at increased risk of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse and of lifetime probable PTSD in early adulthood, both among children who will be heterosexual and children who will have a minority sexual orientation. PTSD is associated with serious sequelae, including health risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex and involvement with interpersonal violence, and physical sequelae, including dysregulated immune function, cardiovascular risk indicators, metabolic syndrome, and chronic pain.”

“…Prior research describes possible pathways linking gender nonconformity to abuse. Some parents may be uncomfortable with gender nonconformity in their children, possibly increasing their likelihood of being abusive toward gender-nonconforming children. Parents may also see gender nonconformity as an indicator of same sex sexual orientation or think others will assume their child will be gay or lesbian. If parents are uncomfortable with homosexuality, nonconformity may lead to the child being targeted for abuse. Some parents also believe their own parenting can shape their child’s gender nonconformity and future sexual orientation; thus, their parenting may become more physically or psychologically abusive in an attempt to discourage their child’s gender nonconformity or same-sex orientation…Sexual predators may similarly target gender nonconforming children.”